The School Archive Project - Students seeing their Story
Student Motivation & Dropout Prevention

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The best dropout prevention is for students to focus on their own story, their own future. The School Archive Project does that with a 10-year time-capsule and class-reunion plan designed to provide students one record of their story combined with a physical connection to their future. The goal is to help students visualize their story and better understand their natural ability to make the differences they want in their own lives through work.

The first School Archive was a 350-pound vault, bolted to the floor of the Quintanilla Middle School lobby in the Oak Cliff area of Dallas in 2005. The Archive has 10 shelves to hold letters from 8th grade classes until their 10-year class reunion. Students write these letters to themselves before leaving the 8th grade. The letter is about their achievements and stories from their life. It will document their efforts toward personal growth and their goals. (Starting in 2010, parents, and/or other significant adults in a child's life, are also invited to write the child a letter about their dreams for the child. The child then reads this letter and seals it, with their own finished letter, into a self-addressed envelope.) The students then pose for a photo with their Language Arts Class in front of the School Archive holding their letters. After the photo they each place their envelope into the Archive themselves.


Students receive a copy of this group photo with information on the back about their planned 10-year reunion. They know they will retrieve their letter at the reunion and be invited to give a "10 years of Wisdom Talk" to the then current 8th grade students. They are warned to prepare for questions from these 10-year younger students such as: "What would you do differently if you were 13 again?"

With a School Archive Project teachers may give students a new message as they leave for high school: "See you in 10 years!"  That simple message is changing students vision of themselves and their future.  It is reinforcing positive student/teacher relationships and establishing a meeting time in the future many are looking forward to. Self-images and plans for the future are evolving more positively, and more often include school.

December 2009 Progress Report:

From 2005/2006 to 2009/2010 the 11th and 12th grade enrollments at all 32 high schools in DISD went up over 5% for a total increase of 758 students. This was during a time when total district enrollment went down over 2%. Only 2 of the 32 DISD high schools account for 417 of these students or 55% of the increase: Pinkston and Sunset high schools.  These are the two high schools who have received almost all of the Middle School Archive Project students!

This growth in 11th and 12th grade enrollment at these two schools points to the value of focusing students onto their own futures, and a future middle school class reunion. The second class to write School Archive Project letters was in the 8th grade in 2005/06. Since then, even though DISD total enrollment went down 2.5%, the number of students in the 11th and 12th grades combined for all of DISD has gone up by 758 students, a 5% increase. That indicates that more students are staying in school. (Go to to see the spreadsheet with these. A copy in Excel format can also be downloaded.) Most of this increase, 55%, happened at two high schools representing 9% of all DISD enrollment, and receiving almost all School Archive Project students: Pinkston and Sunset high schools. At Pinkston, with less than 3% of DISD high school students, their gain of 96 students in the 11th and 12th grades accounted for 12.7% of all the gain for DISD. (During this time the total Pinkston enrollment dropped by 3.7%. This upper grade growth was not due to school expansion.) Sunset, with 6% of DISD high school students, accounted for a gain of 321 students, or 42.3% of all the gain for DISD.  (During this time Sunset enrollment grew by 11.8%. Most of that growth came from this increase in upper grade enrollment. If only all DISD schools had such growing problems!)

Due to the popularity of this project among students, the positive effect on motivation, and the fact that both Pinkston and Sunset had the largest graduation classes in years with the Class of 2009, four more DISD schools started School Archive Projects the summer of 2009: Greiner Middle School, Brown Middle School, Sunset High School, and Macon Elementary School. They all took advantage of a fund that had been established at the Dallas Education Foundation to provide $1,500 grants to cover the purchase and installation of a 500 pound vault in their school lobby, as well as other initial expenses. The School Archive Project is reaching more students, and showing results!

October 2008 Progress Report: (Note: Dallas ISD was reported in April 2008 to have the 7th highest dropout rate of any urban school district in the US. All 6 cities with higher dropout rates than Dallas in this study were smaller cities with under a million population. In June 2008 the FBI also reported Dallas to have the highest crime rate in the US.)

1) An over 26% reduction in the dropout rate between the 9th and 10th grade has been achieved since 2005 at the two high schools receiving most Archive Project students.  It is based on current enrollment numbers as of the end of September, 2008.

Most dropouts never enroll in the 10th grade.  In Dallas ISD an average of 36% of 9th graders do not make it to the 10th grade.

The two high schools attended by most Archive Project students are Pinkston High School and Sunset High School.  They are two of the higher dropout rate high schools in Dallas ISD.  Their percentage of 9th graders not enrolling in the 10th grade had averaged only 39.1% for the four years before the Archive Project started. In the four years since 2005, the percentage of 9th graders not making it to enroll in the 10th grade has gone down over 26%! It went from 39.1% for the four years before 2005-2006 to 28.1% for the 2008-2009 school year. You can see that reflected in the bar chart to the left in terms of those making to the 10th grade.

(An Excel format copy of the spreadsheet these calculations are drawn from for Pinkston and Sunset is linked here to allow the numbers to be manipulated and more easily verified.)

Sunset and Pinkston used to be two of the nine highest dropout rate high schools in Dallas ISD. Of the 41 high schools in Dallas ISD, according the Dropout Factory listing by John Hopkins University, for the graduation classes of 2004 through 2006 there were only 8 Dallas ISD high schools, out of a total of 41, with dropout rates higher than Sunset, and only three with dropout rates higher than Pinkston.  If this lowering of dropout rates continues, then Pinkston and Sunset will be among the Dallas ISD schools with the highest graduation rates and lowest dropout rates by 2010!

If this improvement can be verified as being affected by, or resulting mostly due to that percentage of students who are from Quintanilla, then we have more evidence that the Archive Project is having a even more positive effect on the lowering of the dropout rate.

Ninth grade enrollments are normally inflated in most Texas high schools due to retention and students stuck in the 9th grade, taking 9th grade two or more times. (See the 11 year Texas enrollment chart and the 11 year Dallas ISD enrollment chart for illustration.) This factor, combined with the dropout rate, leads to a significant enrollment number decrease from 9th to 10th grade. From 1998 to 2008 an average of 18.3% of 9th graders in Texas did not make this promotion with their class successfully to the 10th grade.  In Dallas from 1998 to 2008 a total of 36% of Dallas ISD 9th graders failed to make this promotion to the 10th grade with their class successfully.

Something good is definitely happening at Sunset and Pinkston! This improvement by two of the formerly worst dropout rate high schools in Dallas ISD, now on their way to being among the best, is progress to be celebrated, researched, and expanded. (As this is written, staff at Sunset are considering a modification of the Archive Project so that a similar project can be started at Sunset High School. They would have a school archive installed for letters written by seniors just before graduation. The focus on goals would continue!)

2) The Archive Project letter writing process is popular. The letter writing process alone motivates students to higher goals.

In May 2007 a 15 question survey was filled out by 400 students before and after the archive letter writing process.  The goal was to measure the effect of the archive letter writing process itself, as well as secure general perceptions of the Archive Project. The results from this first formal survey of students involved in the Archive Project verify that the Archive Project is very popular.  It also showed that, even though students had known of the writing of the Archive letter for almost 2 years, the actual writing of the letter itself increased the percentage of students planning both graduation and studies beyond high school by over 20%. The report on this survey is linked here. It gives details as to what the survey included and how it was administered, with question by question results for each of the 15 questions answered by students both before and after the writing of their letters for the Archive.

 An example of a Middle School Archive Lounge
The Achievement & Goals Archive "lounge" (above) at Quintanilla Middle
 School, is located between the stairs going up to the 8th grade floor.

This project was started at Quintanilla Middle School, an inner-city public school in Dallas Texas serving 1100 students in the 7th and 8th grade.  The original proposal was written, presented to school staff and PTA, and approved in March of 2005. It was funded the next month by the local Lowe's Home Improvement Center.

Achievement & Goals Archive

This safe contains letters written by Quintanilla 8th graders to themselves about their lives, achievements, and goals. They will return to open these letters in ten years. On their return these alumni will be invited to speak with the then current students of the most valuable lessons they took from Quintanilla. 


What would they do differently if they were 13 years old again?

Archivo de los Logros y de las Metas

Esta caja fuerte contiene las cartas escritas de los alumnos del 8vo grado para a sí mismos sobre sus vidas, logros, y metas. Volverán en diez años para abrir estas cartas. Al regresar, seran invitados para hablar con los estudiantes sobre las lecciones más valiosas que tomaron de Quintanilla.


 ¿Qué harían diferente si tuvieran 13 años nuevamente?

Above is the wording and photo from the sign hanging inside the Plexiglas door of the Archive.

The original Middle School Archive Project involved a large vault bolted to the concrete floor inside a closet with a locked, clear Plexiglas door.  It is secured under spotlights in a central location of the school passed over 4 times each school day by all students.  It is called the Achievement & Goals Archive.  The four vaults installed in other schools since 2005 have not been placed into a closet but are in the open allowing students to better understand what they are. Every student is introduced to the vault when they enter as new students.  They know that before they graduate from the 8th grade they will be allowed, but not required, to write a letter to themselves to be added to the letters already stored in the vault from previous graduating classes.  Their letters will be available to them the week of Thanksgiving the 10th year after their graduation from middle school.  When they return to pick up their letters they will also be invited to share their recommendations with students in the school at that time, giving their "10 years of wisdom talk." Would they do anything differently if they were 13 again?

The letter 8th grade students write may become a valued family history document. It should be a snapshot of their lives to date, a part of their written history.  It will include stories about them and their friends, family, neighborhood, and school, as well as anything else from the history of their lives to date.  It will help to document their efforts and work toward personal growth. They will then also write about their goals for the future. The letter should be limited to 4 sheets of paper, front and back if needed.  It must fit inside a normal business size envelope. They are to address the envelope to themselves either at their current home address, or, if no family members may be at that address in 10 years, in care of a relative or friend, someone who will probably still be at their same address in 10 years.

Nobody can promise a student that they will be the ones who open their letter in 10 years.  Alumni no longer able to receive mail through the old address they had placed on the envelope will need to contact the school before November of that 10th year so they can be invited to the opening of the Archive for their letter.  If they do not provide a corrected address before that May then the letter they addressed 10 years before will be mailed to a bad address and potentially lost.  There are also accidents in life.  Two Quintanilla students died tragically  the summer and fall of 2005, one in a drowning accident during the summer and another in an automobile accident that fall. Such realities of life must be spoken of before students write their letters. In a situation when a student dies this letter may become an especially valuable family possession for a grieving family. Students must know this letter may become a treasured part of their written family history. Most probably they will share it someday with their spouse, children, and grandchildren.

The "Ten Years of Wisdom Talk" mentoring component will start once alumni begin returning the 10th year after their graduations to pick up their letters. In November of that 10th year notices will be mailed to each of the addresses on the envelopes addressed by the graduates from 10 years before. The notice will welcome those graduates back to pick up their letters written almost 10 years earlier.  It will tell them the date and time during Thanksgiving week of the opening of the Achievement & Goals Archive for their letters.  At this reunion they will be given their letters and asked to share with the current students any wisdom they have gained of life during those 10 years. Thinking of giving this "10 years of wisdom talk" may also encourage and direct alumni as the years pass leading toward their return. This talk is planned for November so that the then current 8th grade students will have more to consider during the 6 months before they write their own letters for the Achievement & Goals Archive in May. "How can I best plan for my own personal growth?"

The archived letters will be mailed by the 10th anniversary of their writing to all students who have not been able to come to Quintanilla to pick up their letters between Thanksgiving and May. The letters will be mailed in May to the addresses placed on the envelopes 10 years earlier, or to corrected addresses received. This will allow for room to be made in the vault for the new letters current Quintanilla 8th graders will write in May to continue the tradition.

The letter writing process can be personally difficult for students, as was found with the class of 2005, the first class to write such letters. Most students were very excited by the process and wrote at length of their history and future plans.  One young student, a new single parent, was very upset at the idea and cried at the very idea of writing such a letter. She was stuck in a fixed mentality, not seeing the opportunities for her own growth and that of her child.  Her letter was never written.  Could that student's life have been different if this project, reinforcing the potential for growth no matter what the situation, had started years sooner? Hopefully that student, and the other students who chose not to write letters, will still write letters for the vault.  They could certainly be some of the most proud alumni returning to their 10 year reunion.

Photographs given each student were a positive addition in 2006.  The students who had written letters for the Archive in their Language Arts classes in 2006 posed with that teacher, their classmates, and their letter in front of the Archive for photos.  Then each student personally placed their letter on shelf number 6 in the Archive for all 2006 letters. Large 4" x 6" copies of the group photos taken were then made and given to each student in the photo.  On the back of each photo was a large mailing label with the following wording:  

This is your Language Arts Class on May 12, 2006 posing in front of the Achievements & Goals Archive at Quintanilla Middle School, 2700 Remond Dr., Dallas, Texas 75211, phone 972-502-3200. A letter you wrote to yourself is now inside the Archive. Sometime the fall of 2015 you will be invited to the reopening of the Archive before Thanksgiving. Please call Quintanilla if you have not heard from us by November of 2015, or if you want to help with the reunion, or if you no longer can receive mail at the address placed on your envelope in the Archive. We want you to be able to join us for the opening of the Archive, and your class reunion. If you cannot attend the Thanksgiving, 2015, Reunion we still need a correct address so you will get your letter when it is mailed the first week of May, 2016. May you prosper these next 10 years,    Your Quintanilla Family

These photos quickly became valued possessions. Students began signing the back of each others photos as soon as they were given out. It was obvious this was a memento they planned to keep. Several of that small minority of students who had chosen not to write letters decided to belatedly write letters for the archive even though they were too late for the photo process.  In 2007 almost all students wrote letters for the School Archive. A tradition of class photos in front of the Archive was established.  Photos of classes in front of the Archive with their letters are now seen in Language Arts Classrooms and other locations of the school. All students know this is part of a process they want to be involved in.

School counseling staff know such letter writing is a time for counseling issues to surface. Counseling staff are available during the letter writing so counseling issues may be more effectively addressed. Throughout the year teachers and counselors can talk of the letters students will be writing for the Achievement & Goals Archive to help focus those students on their futures and reinforce a growth mentality.  Encouraging preliminary drafts of materiel to eventually be placed into the Archive Letter could be used by counselors and teachers in many settings to help motivate students to plan for their futures.

Liability Issues: Many students invest multiple hours drafting and redrafting their letter for the Archive. It is recommended students be encouraged to keep a copy of any letter they value. In spite of the locked and secured vault, it is possible that letters can be lost in many different ways. It also must be emphasized that letters may fall into the hands of others who may not respect confidential information.  Thus, caution should be exercised in what is written.

Students may see the similarities between this project and life. What they do and what they write is what will be there when the Archive is opened in 10 years.  What they achieve over the next 10 years is what they will bring with them to share with the then current students when they return in 10 years. They control this project and nobody else. Their efforts and their work can help them grow and change their world, and their children's world.

To be able to say "See you in 10 years" has the ability to change relationships: between teachers and students, and among students.  A student's view of school, and the world, will certainly change with such simple statements. (This item is being discussed at the page titled "See you in 10 years!". Visit and add your thoughts.)

The annual costs for a Middle School Archive Project during the first 9 years of the project are estimated to be about $2 per student.  This would be the cost for the envelopes and paper required as well as the photo and label given each student at the end of the year. It is anticipated that the donation of the vault and expenses for it's installation in a central location under spotlights can be secured with relative ease from any of a multitude of sources.  The total of such installation expenses is anticipated to be in the $1,500 - $4,000 range. Once the Archive Project is over 9 years old the expenses for postage and contacts with alumni will probably triple the annual expenses.  Considering the current expenses faced in education, and the returns anticipated with the Middle School Archive Project, these expenses are minimal.  All that is needed is a volunteer, or team of volunteers, to create and manage an Archive Project in any middle school.  These volunteers need to be people interested in helping students to focus on their futures.

Challenge a middle school, or a middle school teacher you may know, with a donation to help start their Archive Project! For example, as little as a pleasant invitation may get school staff interested in studying the idea to help their students. As little as $500 would cover initial expenses if you find a donor willing help with half the cost of the vault. A $10,000 donation to a middle school can start an Archive Project and cover the expenses for installation of the vault, and other expenses related to the photographs and letter writing until the first 10-year reunion!  In the process the lives of thousands of students during those years will be touched as they plan for their futures and their 10-year reunions.  It is something not now happening. The school culture will change over time.

Print out a copy of this web page and take it along with your check to the school you would like to help change. It will make a difference only if the school you select is ready to start an Archive Project. Or you could make the offer to several schools with the understanding that the one with the best plan will be selected. Many alternatives are possible to get Archive Projects started and help our students focus on and work for their own futures.

In Dallas ISD there are 35 middle schools without Archive Projects as of 2-23-09. The offer of $1,000 will more than cover the cost of a vault. Annual expenses are much less than $2 per 8th grade student.  That is certainly less expensive, and more effective, than other dropout prevention programs.

Challenge a school to start an Archive Project with this year's students!

If we as adults show enough respect for students and the content of their letters to place these letters in a fire-proof vault for 10 years, a vault that students will see in a place of respect every day, and if students know they will be asked to share what they have learned with future students when they return, then our "body language" will give a set of strong messages to all students:

"See you in 10 years!"

Links to Archive Project documents, a photo history, & articles
 listed with the most recent additions first:

  1. In February of 2010 an article on the Archive Project was written by a teacher who was visiting Dallas.  The connections he made with Dallas History are unique:

  2. An article titled "A Dropout Cure in Dallas" was published by America's Promise on 6-12-09 about the School Archive Project.  It was linked from the "News & Events" link from the home page of America's Promise at  A direct link to the article is

  3. A report completed in May 2009, linked here, and reported in Dallas media, shows the progress Dallas ISD is making in raising the 9th to 12th grade promotion rates. They have gone up 8 percentage points since 1999. The 9 Oak Cliff high schools have had four years of constant improvement with a greater percentage of their 9th grade students making it to enroll in the 12th grade each year.  With the class of 2009 the Oak Cliff high schools now have a 51.3% promotion rate, 11 percentage points higher than the 39.6% promotion rate the 6 North Dallas high schools have fallen to.

  4. On 2-22-09 a Dallas Morning News Community Opinions piece by Bill Betzen was published on the Archive Project: Stimulus money and dropouts(A one page copy of the article for printing is linked here.)

  5. The Ten Commandments of the Archive Project, created in an attempt to identify and simplify the items that could weaken and/or destroy an Archive Project if not followed.

  6. To understand dropout rates a compilation of a 12-year history of student enrollment by grade in Dallas ISD, with number of diplomas given each year was created. It gives various ways of calculating student dropout rates using data that should easily be available from every school district.  While this report was rather easy to compile from available data on the TEA website, and appears to give a very good idea of the dropout issue in DISD, similar reports cannot be located online for any district in the US. Student enrollment numbers by grade have not been located online for any US school district.

  7. What do the students think of the Archive Project and their graduation plans? In May 2007 a 15 question survey was filled out by 400 students before and after the archive letter writing process.  The goal was to secure measurements of the effect of the archive letter writing process as well as general perceptions of the Archive Project. Here are the results from this first formal survey of students involved in the Archive Project.

  8. "Students getting safe place to store dreams" is an article published 5-26-07 in the Dallas Morning News about the Archive Project.

  9. "The Dropout Cure: Students Seeing Their Future," an article about a connection to the future, as provided by The Middle School Archive Project, being essential in any dropout prevention effort.

  10. The new book, published February 2006, by Dr. Carol S. Dweck of Stanford, "Mindset: A new Psychology of Success,"  may have the most profound impact on the Archive Project.  If the Middle School Archive Project can be another force in helping ALL teachers and students move toward obtaining the "growth mindset" described in Dr. Dweck's masterpiece, then the world of education will begin a sustained revolution.

  11. Dr. Robert Coles in his 1989 book "The Call of Stories : Teaching and the Moral Imagination" provides powerful support for the value of having students write their stories. A professor who taught under Dr. Coles at Harvard spoke of the lessons in this book after he was told of the Middle School Archives Project the summer of 2006.  This book has profound potential applications within the Archive Project.

  12. February 26, 2006, an article "Letters to be delivered in a decade,"  by freelance writer, Richard Gonzalez, was published in the Sunday Fort Worth Star Telegram. Here is a scanned copy of that article.  He wrote: "They write letters as boys and girls to read as men and women."

  13. A handout called "Helping our Children," has been written to use in orienting parents, staff, and others to the School Archive Project. Here are pdf copies that can be printed as one page, Spanish on one side, English on the otherTo make modification of this form easier here are copies of these same two pages in Microsoft Word format: Spanish and English.

  14. A one page handout, front and back, that can be used to present the School Archive Project idea at your school.

  15. "Students at Quintanilla write letters that won't be read for 10 years" is an article from the January 30, 2006 DISD Communicator.

  16. Students offer '10 Years of Wisdom' is another article about the Archive Project distributed in the December 2005 Better Teaching newsletter, on the top of page 4,  distributed by The Teacher Institute,

  17.     Archive Builds a Stronger Future - 09/16/2005

  18. A photo history of the project

  19. The instructions given to the students for use in writing their letters for the vault

  20. Second letter sent to Lowe's with photos of planned location for vault

  21. The original proposal and the First letter sent to Lowe's that ultimately led to funding

You may freely use the ideas and materiel on this web site.  It is only asked that you share your results, and any positive changes you may make to the project design, so that more students may benefit. Your comments and/or questions about the School Archive Project are valuable.  Please email them to

This web site is not managed by Dallas ISD or any school within Dallas ISD. It is the web project of one Dallas ISD teacher, with the critical help of many other teachers & colleagues. The goal is for DISD to achieve a 50% graduation rate for the first time in over 12 years (possibly the first time in history) and then to move toward a 60% graduation rate.  In August of 2008 New York City claimed for the first time that they had achieved a 50% graduation rate. All indications are that the School Archive Project will help achieve this goal in Dallas, and then move the graduation rate in Dallas ISD beyond that of New York City.

The project will spread more quickly as increasing numbers of schools begin their own Archive Projects, both within and outside Dallas ISD.  One donor willing to donate to any school that starts an Archive Project could speed up the process significantly.  One donor could help thousands of children begin the process of thinking of, and recording, their own history.  The goals children will create and work toward will be priceless!   In the process they will graduate high school! 

A challenge donation of $5,000, to be given after an Archive Project is started in a school and the Archive installed, can help an Archive Project process get started. It would cover the Archive Project expenses for the first decade in most schools. The process of focusing students onto their own futures will thereby be made more real and credible for hundreds more students each year in each school. For every Archive Project started, dozens, maybe hundreds, of more students will graduate each year from that time forward.

"What better books can there be than the book of humanity?" Cesar Chavez

Last Updated: Saturday, April 17, 2010
Bill Betzen LMSW (Emeritus)

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